There are several exchange-traded funds (ETFs) available to offer investors exposure to many of the most attractive companies operating in frontier markets around the world. Frontier markets include countries that are in the earliest stages of political and economic development. They exist in contrast to emerging-market economies, which include countries that have made substantial progress in the implementation of economic reform programs, helping to open domestic markets and increase economic growth. While frontier markets present a lot of investment risk, they are also characterized by youthful populations and the possibility of fast economic growth.
Here's a look at three ETFs with broad-based exposure to frontier markets: the iShares MSCI Frontier 100 ETF (FM), the Invesco Frontier Markets ETF (FRN) and the Global X Next Emerging & Frontier ETF (EMFM). The information here was current as of Oct. 17, 2018.
1. IShares MSCI Frontier 100 ETF
The iShares MSCI Frontier 100 ETF was launched in September 2012 to track the MSCI Frontier Markets 100 Index, which measures the performance of about 100 of the biggest and most liquid frontier-market stocks in the world. Component equities are weighted according to free-float market capitalization. This index is a subset of the broader MSCI Frontier Markets Investable Market Index, which tracks 303 small-, mid- and large-cap equities in 29 frontier-market countries.
FM is the largest and most liquid frontier market ETF available. The fund has more than $497 million in net assets and 117 holdings. It tilts heavily toward financial services stocks, which account for 43.01% of fund assets. Communication services stocks are allocated at 11.50%, followed by consumer staples stocks at 10.59% and real estate stocks at 10.51%. In terms of geographical exposure, more than half of the fund's assets are allocated to just three countries: Kuwait at 21.69%, Vietnam at 19.28% and Argentina at 15.96%. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.79%.
2. Invesco Frontier Markets ETF
Launched in June 2008, the Invesco Frontier Markets ETF tracks the investment performance of the BNY Mellon New Frontier Index. This index is made up primarily of frontier-market stocks that have depositary receipt listings on stock exchanges in the United States or on the London Stock Exchange. Stocks listed on exchanges within frontier-market countries may also be included in the index if they meet market capitalization and trading volume requirements.
FRN has net assets of approximately $39 million and 67 holdings. Holdings are spread across several countries, with the top three being Kuwait at 15.55%, Argentina at 13.96% and Romania at 11.60%. Much like FM, FRN is dominated by financial services stocks, which get a 39.90% allocation. Communication services stocks are allocated at 10.53%, industrial stocks at 9.48% and consumer staples stocks at 8.95%. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.70%.
3. Global X Next Emerging & Frontier ETF
The Global X Next Emerging & Frontier ETF seeks to match the investment results of the Solactive Next Emerging & Frontier Index. This index is designed to track the performances of equities in frontier-market countries and smaller emerging-market countries. To maintain a focus on smaller economies, the index excludes equities from six of the world's largest emerging countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Korea and Taiwan. Thus, while its scope is much broader than the frontier-focused ETFs described above, EMFM remains an interesting alternative for investors interested in exposure to less-developed markets.
The fund has $13.70 million in net assets invested in 203 stocks. About 73% of fund assets are allocated to emerging-market equities, and the remainder are invested in frontier markets. Top geographic allocations to frontier markets include Argentina at 3.59% and the United Arab Emirates at 3.18%. The sector breakdown includes financial services stocks at 18.97%, followed by materials stocks at 18.63% and energy stocks at 14.05%. EMFM has an expense ratio of 0.56%.